By Dr. Steven G. Yeomans, Chiropractor & Managing Editor,
Many of us recall being told, “…sit up straight,” or “…stop slouching so much!” Between our mothers, teachers, bosses, or friends ordering us to change from a slumped, slouched posture to a more erect, upright sitting position, most of us were not appreciative of this reminder. But perhaps their command was actually really good advice for a number of reasons – more than just for aesthetic reasons.
Slumped posture is a well-published feature of depression and though research shows an upright posture results in improved self-esteem and mood in healthy people, little is known about how this might affect those who struggle with depression.
In a March 2017 article published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 61 participants were asked to either maintain their usual posture or sit upright. The latter were instructed to straighten their backs, level their shoulders, and think about stretching the tops of their head toward the ceiling while bringing their shoulder blades down and together. Rigid physiotherapy tape was used to facilitate maintenance of the corrected posture.
Both groups were then asked to perform a stressful speech task. During the task, the investigators found that those in the upright posture group spoke significantly more words, had reduced fatigue, increased enthusiasm, and improved affect when compared with those in the usual posture group.
The conclusion: this study “…suggests that adopting an upright posture may increase positive affect, reduce fatigue, and decrease self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression.”
Since we are not likely to apply rigid physiotherapy tape to our back and shoulders, improved sitting posture can be achieved in the following way:
- Tuck in your chin without tilting the head down or forwards
- Bring your shoulder blades together
- Maintain a curve in your low back (a “neutral pelvic tilt” – choose the mid-point between the two extremes of a fully arched back or “anterior pelvic tilt” and a fully rounded low back or “posterior pelvic tilt”). The position of greatest comfort is the favored position which is usually a neutral to slightly anterior pelvic tilt position
Specific exercises to stabilize the scapulae and correct forward head posture include:
- Shoulder external rotation: Lay on the side, raise a light weight towards the ceiling with the elbow flexed 90ᵒ kept against the body
- Prone horizontal “flies”: Lay on the stomach (bench is ideal), raise arms towards ceiling squeezing scapulae together; alter arm positions to affect different muscles fibers (45ᵒ, 90ᵒ, 135ᵒ)
- Deep Neck Flexor strengthening: Supine, tuck in chin and nod downward keeping the head down on the floor/mat
- Pect (chest) Stretch: Hook the elbow (flexed 90ᵒ) on a door jam and rotate the body in the opposite direction; alter the arm position to stretch different muscle fibers
- Neck Side Stretch: Reach over the head, bring the ear to the shoulder keeping chin tucked, gently pull in neutral, flexion, and extension of the neck; add rotation in each position to stretch additional muscle fibers
So the next time someone says “sit up straight,” we might want to actually listen to them!